Monday, December 31, 2007

It's All Gravy

There is no happiness. There is only moments of happiness
- Portuguese saying (allegedly)

For most of my life, the transition to a new year has been hard. Caught up in the hype of endings and beginnings, I’d invariably find fault with my life, usually some variant of waiting for my life to happen, that although I was going to school, working, etc., I wasn’t quite plugged in, that I was coasting, existing, not living.

About a month ago, I found myself saying something stunning to a friend. That if you’d shown the me of 5 years ago the me now, 5-years-ago-me would’ve been horrified. I would’ve shuddered at my pain levels, my limitations, how much my life has shrunk, both in terms of ability, social life, geographic mobility (the way my pain levels prevent me from going beyond my immediate neighbourhood). I would’ve believed this life unbearable. And here’s the stunner: I am happier now than I was 5 years ago. Than I have ever been. Here, in my little life, the life that has far less Big Moments and fabulous activities than ever before. Here, in my little life, I have found peace and contentment.

now I [can] die a happy woman
- Me, after seeing Etta James

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to live past 100. Not just for the competitive element (although there is that), but because I could not imagine ever being okay with leaving. And then, a year and a half ago, when listening to Etta James sing At Last and for the first time in my life, I could imagine being satisfied with the amount of living I had done. And it's continued, frequent moments of transcendent beauty where the world pauses and the glory of it all washes over me, I feel full to bursting and think that now, again, I can die a happy woman. This is so unlike me that sometimes, I’ve worried that maybe the universe was trying to prepare me for an early death (because sometimes, I think too much), but I’m pretty sure that's not it. I think that when I was so sick at the end of 2004 and got my life back with Enbrel, then got sick again and changed to Humira earlier this year, it served a purpose. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ve been with me through some pretty awful times. You've seen the struggle against losing one ability after another, trying to find a life in loss, hope despite grief. I felt as if I was being stripped bare, pared down to the essentials, that each loss sanded off one more layer, leaving me raw and new. And now, looking back, I feel as if the me I was has been torn down, leaving space for possibility, leaving room to grow into the person I’ve always wanted to be.

My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations
- Michael J. Fox, January issue of Esquire.

It’s happiness. Not that ridiculous contrived Happyness that some Hollywood focus groups foisted upon the world. Real, honest-to-goodness, deep-down pleasure at being alive. And like Michael J. Fox, I have found that acceptance and freeing myself from expectations, attachment to a particular outcome, has been the key.

Humira has helped, because Humira controls the arthritis to a point where I can start using my own coping mechanisms to manage the pain. Humira has stabilized my situation, it has allowed me to be strong enough to help my mother through her own battle with loss of ability this past summer, it has allowed me to be more present in the lives of my loved ones, to be useful, to take a trip in a van that was longer than 10 minutes - I paid for it, hurt for several days and it won't happen often, but I could and before, I couldn't. And just this week, I went past my own immediate neighbourhood, took the quarter kilometre walk to the post office and back again for the first time in almost 4 years. I paid for it and it won't happen often, but I could and it makes me still inside, because I thought I never would again. It makes me wonder what else might be regained, although if I never get any better than I am now, I’m fine with that (not any worse, though, please, because I haven't freed myself from all attachments yet). And it is thanks to the taxpayers who gave me first Enbrel that got me part of the way and now Humira that's opened up my life a little more. It doesn't matter that it only takes half of my pain, because without it, acceptance is unbearably difficult, if not impossible. But it turns out that I don't need to be all the way “cured” (or any of the other things we delude ourselves into believing that we need) to be happy. I have all I need in my little life.


Eventually, introspection must give way to… everything else
- Larry Fleinhart, Numb3rs, on getting ready to leave the monastery

This year, I haven't practiced my daily observation of gratitude and spiritual growth so much and for a while, I worried that I wasn't honouring the gift anymore. But I have realized that they are many ways to honour getting a second chance at life and one of them is to live it.

I will not fear
- my adaptation of the litany against fear

I used to be afraid all the time. Afraid of taking risks, afraid of letting go, afraid of loving with a whole heart, afraid of loss, afraid of pain, afraid of never seeing my dreams - of being a writer, of being me without hiding and pretense, of living - become a reality. And I still have fear, because fear is a part of life, but I choose for it to no longer stop me, because the worst that could happen already has - I thought I was going to die and I didn't. And much to my surprise, it was not until my life shrunk that I started being me and living my dreams.

I have things I still want to do, but nothing that I need, so now… now, it's all gravy. The transition to a new year is just another day, with as much promise as the one before it and I simply cannot wait too see what 2008 will bring.

May your dreams come true.

p.s. and because there's been too much bliss this week, I forgot to mention a very important thing: thank you, to all of you who's reading this. For being there.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Wallowing in Joy

I love Christmas. It’s my favourite holiday and I can’t get enough of it. Which turned out to be a good thing. We always congregate at my mother’s on Christmas Eve, but this year, we got a call from the TinkParents early in the day to tell us that they’d had a case of not Typhoid Mary, but rather Typhoid Liam and that although the children were all bright-eyed and bushytailed after experiencing only a brief period of gastrointestinal distress, the infection had laid waste to aforementioned TinkParents and it was impossible for them to come. So Christmas #1 was a smidge quieter than it otherwise would’ve been, with mor, myself, Ken and Michele doing our level best to eat for 8 (it’s the least we could do), sing with abandon (no noise complaints were received) and in general enjoy ourselves to the max (and although we missed the pestilent a great deal, we did admittedly have a rather terrific time). In honour of the absent, mor placed candles by her photographs of the Tinks and the flickering candlelight made for a beautiful shot. Or so I thought. What actually emerged on my camera’s screen was more akin to devilspawn



Luckily, by Boxing Day, all was well again and we did Christmas #2: The Do-Over. I made sure to pay subtle attention to the children – y’know, just to check – and although the Tinks have recently turned 2, it’s with some relief that I can report they appear to be some of the least terrible twos I’ve ever encountered and that any signs of otherworldly influence were limited to the benevolent kind. Not that I’m biased or anything.

S
cott – Michele’s youngest – was there, too, snazzily attired in his new clothes (with loads of skulls. Naturally)


and Jason (her oldest) was missed as he helped Boxing Day shoppers spend their money. There were more tissue paper games and much laughing (I managed to make Liam laugh so hard he almost barfed)

Mormor gifted the kids with stuffed animals and Liam didn’t seem to mind that Morgan, who never met a stuffed animal she didn't think should be hers, insisted on hanging on to his for a while.


Liam is still working on words, getting better every time I see him, but being a boy, is a bit behind Morgan (also, he might be more the strong silent type because his sister won't let him get a word in edgewise. Their father seems to feel this is a common trait among the females of the family. I don't know what gave him that idea). Morgan is in the instant-replay stage of development, repeating everything - and I do mean everything - instantly, with careful e-nun-ci-a-tion, occasionally sounding remarkably like a tiny alien learning to speak the weird human speak (there's that otherworldly influence again). Like in the following clip where although she pays lipservice to the toy being Liam's lion, her expression seems to say something more along the lines of "You strangely insist that this plush toy belongs to my brother, but I beg to differ. Allow me to acquaint you with the expression 'possession is 9/10ths of the law'".

video

Monday, December 24, 2007

Gl├Ždelig Jul!

I had a plan. I even had a Schedule. Then there's that thing about how doing something twice makes it tradition and in the past two years, I've done a special Christmas post (here and here), so naturally, somewhere in the past three days, I fully intended to write a thoughtful post about the joys of the season and... well. I think it's too late. The nisse is here already


so all I can do is wish you and yours a wonderful holiday. May it be filled with love, good cheer and plenty of really yummy food.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Random December

On Monday, at the very top of my list - after blogging, of course - was creating a bit of a schedule. It went something like this:

10a.m. - stress out

11a.m. - panic

12 noon - tear hair

1p.m. - gnash teeth

1:30 p.m. - eat lunch. Include chocolate

2p.m. – flit from task to task, never spending more than five minutes on any one thing, create mess, be convinced that alphabetical paperclips would solve all my problems (how couldn’t they? I mean, it’s alphabetical paperclips!), lose presents in mess

3p.m. - have hysterics

3:30 p.m. – nap

As you can probably imagine, Monday was highly unproductive. In the evening, I attempted to get a grip by writing a list for Tuesday and printed in capital letters at the top was GET OVERVIEW OF XMAS, because I am that anal-retentive and my lack of perspective so profound that only by the proverbial writing of a list and checking it twice (or 10 times) could I begin to hope for less holiday angst. So I got an overview, not only of Christmas, but also everything else that has to be done before the holidays - I have a Very Ambitious Plan to be finished by the weekend (stop laughing!) - and realized that I have a deadline, not to mention wrapping, decorating, last-minute running around and in other words, I'm going to throw some distracting links out there that you can use in between your own hysterics and then I'm running out the door.

Rail Europe has a quite adorable (and goofy) Christmas card.

I'm a weather fanatic (hey, it's compelling) and was highly entertained by this weather quiz. As well, I got an old suspicion confirmed and I hope you don't mind if I ruin one of the answers for you. My housekeeper used to come on Thursdays and for the longest time, I claimed that it would always snow when my floors had just been washed. Turns out that I wasn't completely insane and that most major snowfalls in Toronto do indeed happen on Thursdays. Who knew?

On days where you want to feel really fancy and fabulous, there is a pill you can take to make your poop glitter. Found on Crazy Aunt Purl.

Something more addictive than Minesweeper. An alleged Air Force test that's both incredibly simple and an excellent procrastination activity. My best time so far it is almost 12 seconds. I use it as a reward. I'll be allowed to play again on December 23.

And penultimately, another seasonal link. I belong to an email list for Danes outside of Denmark and every year, one of the members does this fantastic bilingual advent calendar that's entertaining, as well as educational. Enjoy!

I was talking to a friend who lives in South Carolina, who told me she'd seen a cormorant doing yoga the other day (or at least it looked like it was doing yoga). I countered with The Pigeon That Hated Snow - you can just see the ICK!, can't you?



Monday, December 17, 2007

That Might Explain It

The first order of business today is the result of last Wednesday’s contest. I got a ton of email, which I always enjoy (note to self: have contests more often!). There were answers, guesses and even made-up songs - Willowtree’s “Ain't no trout about it” deserves honourable mention and Cindi’s (who may have a blog, but I’m not sure) suggestion that I was thinking of the theme from Jaws made me giggle every time I thought about it. Most of you were on my wavelength – a fact which you may or may not decide to worry about – and I want to especially thank Jessica for taking the time to type out all the lyrics – now when it’s stuck in my head (over and over and over again), at least I can sing more than a line or two. If you guessed Fish Heads by Barnes & Barnes, you were in the pool. I respectfully requested the participation of Her Royal Catness, but she claimed to be busy digesting, so I put the names in a Tupperware container fancy receptacle, closed my eyes and picked one. And the winner is…. Beth! Congratulations - the print will be on its way within a day or two.

The Christmas spirit hasn't quite hit me yet and I can't quite figure out why. Sure, I've been really busy, I got a good part of my shopping done very early and then wandered off and never quite got back into it again. It's not for lack of cues. The Santa Claus Parade happened, carols are playing in all the stores, there’s lights and decorations and Christmas trees everywhere – even ones made of feathers

Feathers??? Nevermind, moving on! The more traditional trees have arrived, as well


And every day when I pass by, I inhale deeply and the piney scent of green and happiness moves from my nostrils to my lungs and from there into every part of me and that's usually when I start humming the Christmas carols.

This year is a very different from last winter - seems like we have snow every few days and sometimes, like last Friday, it is perfect packing snow and I find myself calling up Ken who's at work in a place that's not even officially Toronto and ask if he wants to meet me outside for a snowball fight. We then discussed snow people, snow angels and hot chocolate, so we are on the ball in terms of seasonally appropriate activities. A
nd speaking of snow, we got a bit more this weekend


The dogs seemed to love it


Something tells me I'll be housebound until at least Wednesday

But still, it's not time for the Christmas spirit yet, because there’s plenty of time, isn’t there and I don’t want to be sick of the holiday stuff before The Big Day arrives. When it comes decorating my home, I'm just not that into it this year. I'm even thinking of not decorating at all, but then tell myself that there’s still plenty of time to change my mind. Except there’s not really, is there? Because today’s the 16th and Christmas is in 7 days and how in the name of Rudolph did that happen? Every time I realize that there are only SEVEN DAYS till Christmas, I am completely shocked. Even when I remind myself of the fact several times a day, I am still shocked every single time..

And I think I’ve figured out. It’s because of my advent candle. In the grand tradition of advent candles in my house, I’m a little behind, except for some odd reason (that I’m a dimwit?), this year, I believe the candle, not everything else in the world and according to the candle

It’s last weekend.

I think I need to get my arse in gear.

Are you ready?

Friday, December 14, 2007

More Questions Than Answers

I was talking to friend about euthanasia the other day - yes, I know, we have such uplifting talks ‘round here. We were in wholehearted agreement about the barbarism that is our ability to, when the end is inevitable and filled with suffering, help an animal to a dignified, painless end, but not do the same for people, should they wish it, because… I dunno, human suffering is noble and useful before death? And then the subject turned to Robert Latimer and things got a little hairy.

Fourteen years ago, Latimer killed his severely disabled daughter Tracy and last week, his parole application was denied. And I will come right out and say that I rejoiced when I heard that, because I think what he did was wrong with a capital W, because no one has the right to "help" someone die who isn’t capable of asking for that help. My friend is a parent and believes that although the rules may say that what he did was wrong, it is quite possible that in this particular context, it may have been right. So right off the bat, we were on completely different sides in the debate but she did challenge me to think about why I thought only people who can articulate their wish to end their suffering should get to do so. And when I spoke of the dangerous precedent, of the devaluing of life that already occurs with disability, of the slippery slope and how cases like Tracy, Ashley, Katie and Ruben frighten me to no end, she mentioned that it wouldn't happen to me. That I am not in danger of someone deciding that my life is not worth living and taking actions to end it.

Every time I post about cases like this, someone will say that I don't have to worry about it, that I am safe and I appreciate the sentiment behind that, I really do. And I know I am safe, because I am cognitively "normal", can articulate my desires and I have loving friends and family who will be an extra layer of protection to advocate for my rights. But the truth of that sentiment is exactly my point, because my second line of defense is a very real reliance on others to advocate for me. How many non-disabled people do you know who need that extra protection against being medically modified or “helped” to end their lives? And what happens to the disabled person who doesn't have resourceful people who will fight tooth and nail for them to have the same rights as everyone else?

Aside from our developmental stage, what is the difference between me and Tracy Latimer? What makes it okay to help her escape her chronic pain and not me, who also has chronic pain? Was her life a living hell or did it balance the pain with joy? And if the answer is that we can never know for sure if all possibilities to help her had been exhausted and will never know what she would have wanted, how can it be right to "give her peace"? What kind of assumptions do you have to make in such a case and is it okay to make a decision like that based on assumptions? Who gets to decide? Her parents? Can you assume that all parents will come from a position of altruism and objectivity, that they will not be affected by years of exhausting around-the-clock care or by the heartbreak of watching a child in pain? So you'd need some sort of official body to make the decision but again, who gets to decide? Say the cut-off for approval to euthanize or medically modify someone is decided to be a developmental stage of three months, like Tracy and Ashley. All laws breathe and live and evolve, because societies evolve and something like this would therefore naturally evolve as cases were brought before this hypothetical Board.

First, doctors in Seattle believed it was okay too stunt Ashley's growth and not even a year later, doctors in Britain thought it was okay to do the same to Katie. There is a progression once a precedent has been set. The more of my neighbours who recycle, the more likely I am to recycle, because it has become the norm. There will be another Ashley or Katie and soon. If you listen to the debate, you will hear how many people are of the opinion that individuals similar to these girls don't have the same rights as someone who is ablebodied (or not developmentally delayed), opinions that range from segregation to different standards for medical interference (in the Times article about Katie, they made sure to specify that “[t]he treatments … would not be carried out on able-bodied people"), to stating that kids like this - and these particular paragons of humanity call the kids charming things like 'turnips' - should be killed at birth. Laws evolve because societies evolve. Or sometimes societies devolve and can you seriously guarantee that if it’s okay to alter/kill someone who will never grow older than three months, the line wouldn't be pushed to four months, then five and what then? Do you stop at a certain level of a developmental delay or do you not stop until there is no cognitive involvement? How do you assess the cognitive ability of someone who can't communicate? People who in the past would have been considered "killable" under such a law now have the communication technology that enables the rest of us to find out just how many of them have something to say. And what about pain? Can you guarantee me that someday someone isn't going to tell people like my parents who have a child with arthritis, that the only way to ease the suffering is to amputate the wrist that is causing such pain or because there is no cure, that the most loving thing they can do is do “give her/him peace”?

What is worse – not "helping" someone who should have been allowed to die or "helping" someone who should not have died? And who decides what qualifies as 'should'? Who decides what qualifies as intolerable pain - the norm, i.e., most people?

The thing that makes me feel sick inside is that part of me can see that it is possible Ashley might have a higher quality of life now that she will never grow any bigger. Or that it is conceivable that Tracy's life had so little quality that in this particular case, it may have been okay. Because I look at these girls from my cozy existence, these girls who have profound disabilities and think it must be a pretty awful life and if it were me, I might want that intervention or that final exit that would stop the pain. But what stops me in my tracks each time my mind goes even near that path is that there are many people out there who look at me and say that mine is a pretty awful life, what with the wheelchair, the chronic pain, massive amounts of medication and attendant side effects, barriers, limitations, etc., and those people honestly feel that if they were me, they wouldn't want to live. So according to some, I could certainly qualify for this program of mercy.

And that's why cases like Tracy, Ashley, Katie and Ruben terrify me. Because we are not so different after all.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Christmas Contest

Something I saw the other day made me laugh. And prompted thinking about a contest. It’s been a while since we’ve had a contest ‘round here.

I briefly considered making A Schedule™ the prize, but am pretty sure it’s too close to the deadline for it to be of any use and then there’s that thing about not all of you out there being knitters. So instead, I offer up an 8x10 print of your choice from the multitude of photographs posted here or on Flickr. Or, should the winner be a knitter and really desirous of A Schedule, we can do that instead.

Enough preambling, here it is:

What song did I spend the day humming after seeing this


Send answers to landers5ATgmailDOTcom with the title Christmas Contest by Friday midnight EST. I’ll attempt to come up with some interesting (or not) way of randomly selecting a name – involving Her Royal Catness seems appropriate.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Out To Sea

I caught a song in the grocery store the other day. You know how it goes – there you are, somewhere between the pickles and the orange juice and the music you’ve so far largely ignored (due to the abominable selection) changes at first imperceptibly and then somehow, you find yourself humming without quite realizing which song and then you hear it and either continue humming along – maybe even singing along or am I the only one who sings happily off-key in the produce section? - or you shut your mouth, aghast at what’s emerging from your vocal cords. These days, supermarket muzak is a bit of a mixed bag – on the one hand, 80s music has officially become store entertainment and I’m a little worried about admitting just how much of that I can sing along with, on the other, sometimes you get the aural equivalent of a Twinkie.

But I digress. As usual. So I caught a song and it stayed with me not just to the cash, as they usually tend to do, dropping off me as I near the exit, but for days. Weeks, even, on and off. Beyond the Sea. Extremely hummable, but I’m pretty sure that’s not the only reason it’s with me still. I think it’s the sea thing.

What is it about the ocean that it exerts such a grip on us?

I grew up in an island nation, a country consisting of one peninsula and somewhere around 500 islands and no matter where you are, the ocean is never far away. It is there in the many Danish specialties involving fish, it is there in the weather, forever raining and cool and even when the sun is shining, a nice warm summer’s day is in the high teens (low 60s in Fahrenheit) and it is there, I think, in the national identity, never far from the Viking heritage. And I wonder if it is just people like me, people who grew up close to the sea, for whom it has this pull or if others feel it too, once they've seen it? Or maybe it's that we’re 70% water and the planet’s 70% water and if you think about that too long, you can really blow your mind...

I've always wanted to go to sea. I mentioned Cousteau last week - I was obsessed with him as a child and wanted desperately to join the Calypso when I grew up. Nothing else in the world seemed as fascinating as diving below the surface and entering another world. Well, except for that time when they were diving below the ice in the Arctic. I could never do that - what if you couldn't find the hole to get out again (I like to have an escape route)? I read books about going to sea, never tiring of one particular book about a family that sailed around the world, spending hours imagining life on a sailboat in the middle of the Pacific. I read about school ships, wanting so badly to be one of the lucky few that got to learn on a tall ship. And then there was Thor Heyerdahl and his experiment in ship construction and yes, the Vikings.

(Demented aside: ideally, when I die, I would like to be placed on a smallish Viking ship, surrounded by special items from my life and from the people who are 'burying' me and then I would like to be set aflame and pushed out to sea right around sunset. Nothing would feel more right)

There was a reality show in the summer called Pirate Master and although it was a pretty nifty idea, the practical application of said idea turned out not to be so fascinating from a game perspective. But I watched it obsessively, for the glimpses of the contestants crawling about in the rigging, high up among the masts and was there with them in spirit, deeply envious that not only did they get to have amazing pirate outfits, but they got to sail a tall ship. Because pirates are cool, almost as cool as Vikings. Sexy, even. Although I'm pretty sure that the actual pirates weren't so much, what with the scurvy, the lice and the likely touch of sociopathy, but we’re not talking about those kinds of pirates, are we? We talking about the sanitized version in my daydream and in that, nothing beats life on the high seas, the sails and the rigging, sleeping in a hammock, falling asleep to the sound of the waves lapping against the hull and the creak of wood.

I live close to a large lake now. A very large lake. A lake so big that the entire country of Denmark could easily be tucked into it and so big that you cannot see the far shore. But it doesn't count, because although the lapping of the waves sound a little bit like real waves and the screams of the seagulls start to approximate the real thing, the smell is missing. That bracing mix of wet sand, salt water and seaweed that is so intoxicating, calming and invigorating, all at the same time and lord, I miss it. It's home to me, the Danish sea especially, but any ocean will do. I'll go for weeks, sometimes even months, without thinking about it, but then I'll catch a song in the supermarket, see a picture on a website or there'll be something in the air on a blustery autumn day and all of me will yearn for salt water and the homesick will be so strong that I can barely breathe.

So it pulls at me still, after an absence of years, more than a decade since I’ve been near the sea and sometimes I wonder why or if it will ever let go, but at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter. Only knowing that it is home matters.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

I Oughta Be Ashamed

Three things have happened this week that have caused behaviour best described as unseemly, quite possibly shameful and which has significantly set back my personal growth.

Thing #1: It may be somewhat of an understatement to say that I'm slightly competitive. I try – oh, lord, do I try - to control it, especially when playing games with children, as I believe it may be cruel to wipe the floor with someone who's underage while cackling maniacally as you win. Besides, it's not a fair fight and it is much more fun to win when you're on a level playing field. Which brings me to the Minesweeper story. An innocuous, deceptively quick little game, it has the potential for addiction built right in. Which I discovered to the point of incurring a Minesweeper injury. If that wasn't bad enough, both Ken and Stephanie joined the “fun”, which took things from serious to demented and I didn’t quit until I reached 83 seconds on the expert level (Ken and Steph having had the good sense to abandon ship several weeks prior to this event). I haven't played it since, even when I discovered a website that claims that it is possible to do better than 83 seconds, because I know myself. I am on the wagon now and being all too aware of the problem I once had, afraid of even opening the program.

Which brings me to trivia. Which I love and not just because I possess what an old friend once called the "Amazing Mind for Useless Facts", but also because even when you get it wrong, you learn something and I like that. So when Willowtree started a trivia contest, I naturally signed up as fast as I could and at first managed to contain the competitive instincts fairly well, just having a good time challenging myself. Until the man announced that I was the winner of the October tournament, then cruelly taking the win away from me when he discovered that someone had beat me by two points. TWO POINTS! Is anyone other than me hearing the term “gateway drug” wafting about? Yep, the past month was spent compulsively playing this game with the result, I'm sad to report, that I won the November tournament. I even received a trophy

and hope to figure out how to put that in my sidebar so I can enjoy it daily. And this is where the shameful behaviour comes in because this is where I admit that the noise that came out of me when I saw the win could was somewhat akin to the triumphant roar of a lion having just made a kill. And although this may be an indication that I should reflect on my behaviour and priorities, I’m too busy. Too busy playing the game, because I care only about repeating the win in December and it is quite possible that I need professional help. Maybe an intervention? I briefly considered not playing this month in an attempt to render the competitive urge dormant again, but so far, have been unable to quit. So, Willowtree? Thanks, dude. I’ll be sending you my therapy bill.

Thing #2. I may have mentioned that one of the reasons I adore the Amelia Peabody series is because I secretly, in a hidden corner of my heart, believe that Amelia and I have been separated at birth. Oddly enough, the facts that she lived in the Victorian age and is a fictional character do not affect this belief at all. Like Amelia, I am often convinced that I am right and fully believe that if people would just submit to my will and do what I tell them - I will naturally be very charming and amusing while providing detailed instructions and organizational tips - the world would be a far better place. Unlike Amelia, however, I have yet to conquer the regrettable inhibitions that prevent me from wholeheartedly throwing myself into running the world on a full-time basis. In fact, I have somehow been brainwashed into believing that people have a right to make their own decisions, a right to not follow my advice and I work very, very hard to remember to step back and keep my mouth shut. And then, once a year, there’s The Schedule. And Stephanie says such things as “Lene runs my life and I like it” and calls me “Our Lady of Extreme Organization” (which I liked more than I should’ve) and the schedule is working and she is happier than she was without it and it all just contributes to raising my levels of supreme confidence and belief that if I ran the world, it would be a better place. And now I have to spend months suppressing my inner Amelia again, hopefully before I email family, friends and misc. world leaders offering my services. Every year, it gets a little harder.

Thing #3. I normally try to respect Mojo’s dignity (of which she has much). I normally try to laugh with her, not at her. But when Eric the Cat Whisperer comes to clean her ears and put medicine in them and she spends the rest of the day looking like this

I lost the fight. And spent the rest of the day laughing. At, not with.

I oughta be ashamed.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Dancing Fool

I’ve loved to dance for as long as I can remember. When I was little, I’d dance on the Maslagan, disappearing into movement, convinced I was as graceful as the ballerinas I’d watch on TV with my mother and for a while, I alternated future career goals between dancer and fire fighter. That is, until I dropped both in favour of horse trainer in a circus, then later working with Jacques Cousteau and I’m getting off track. I was talking about dancing. And last week's finale of The Best Show on Television has made me think not just of how much I love ballroom dancing, but of my own experience therein.

I
was nine, or maybe eight, the year I decided I wanted to take ballroom dancing. This idea had come to me from my best friend AB who'd been doing it for a few years - it was a fairly common thing for children to do in Denmark around the early 70s. So my parents got me lessons at the same dance studio that AB went to, run by a married couple, Mr. and Mrs. G. I don't remember what he looked like, as he was usually accompanying the class, hidden in a corner behind an ancient, asthmatic piano. Mrs. G. is vague to me, but I remember fancy, slightly old-fashioned clothes and bleached cotton candy hair in a complicated up-do, likely lacquered to within an inch of its life. She used to dance professionally and the air of remembered glory still clung to her.

Their basement had been converted to the dance studio, one big room containing only an area for coats and outside shoes, aforementioned piano and two supporting pillars in the middle. One wall was entirely mirrored and the floor was covered in a blonde parquet that echoed every step, whether awkward and shuffling or expert and precise. At the start of the class, the girls would line up in front of the mirror, the boys by the opposing wall and when Mrs. G. gave the signal, the boys would rush across the floor, trying to reach their favourite (and conversely, avoid certain of the girls). It was my first real experience with the structured passivity of being female and it was terrifying
.

There was a boy there named Peter who almost always reached me first and when he did, he would bow to ask me to dance, I would indicate my acceptance by curtsying and then we’d assumed the position: my hands on his shoulders, his on mine and Mrs. G. would start to teach the class to dance. I still remember how to waltz - you go up the mirror and over, then down the mirror and over again to make a rectangle, all set to the slightly atonal plinking of the piano and it was exactly that mechanical and bereft of joy.

Except, not entirely
.

And the reason it was not joyless was because of Peter. Once, when someone else reached me first, we spent the entire class circling the room with our undesired partners, looking over their shoulders at each other, fraught with frustration. But mostly, as he ran across the floor and I stood nervously by the mirrors, the thunder of running boys vibrating in the parquet, he reached me first and we would dance. I still remember him once gently moving my left pigtail before putting his warm and slightly clammy hand on my shoulder, us looking into each other's eyes and it was one of the most romantic moments of my life. We would dance, trembling with prepubescent longing for something we didn't know and in my heart, I can still remember how the shuffling of inexperienced feet and Mrs. G.'s instructions chanting over the piano receded a little, the world shrinking to my eyes in his and the warmth of his hands bridging the wordless space between u
s.

I didn't go there for long - I forget whether I lost interest (even then, I had the attention span of a gnat) or maybe I got sick. I think it was the latter, which would make it the year I was nine, because that's when I was finally diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and spent five weeks in the hospital. Although I'd spent some time in the hospital before when I was four, this was the first time the disease achieved capital D status by requiring me to stop what I was doing (school, playing, friends, dancing) and focus on the bloody thing. So the dance lessons stopped. In retrospect, I don't think I missed it much, mainly due to Mrs. G. sucking all the fun out of it
.

But every now and again, all these years later, the memory of clammy hands and pigtails still makes me smile.